Is content marketing losing its way? Has it forgotten why it proclaimed to be different in the first place? And do we really need another puff piece on whether the inbound idea isn't revolutionary at all, just a well-spun rehash?
The answers to these questions and more come down to a buzzing debate in content marketing right now: quality vs quantity.
What's the hubbub Bub?
Unless you work deep in the dark caverns of content marketing you probably don't even realise there's a hub, let alone a hubbub going on. But if you're thinking of deploying inbound content marketing for your company, you need to gen up on this industry debate - and fast.
In the red corner: quantity
Some people say that in order to drive traffic, and by extension leads and customers, you need to publish lots and often. It doesn't have to be jaw-dropping, insightful copy. It just has to answer a very specific niche query that someone, somewhere is looking for.
Jeff Bezos has taken this approach at the Washington Post, which now publishes 1,200 posts a day. As Steve Rayson at BuzzSumo explains, this is an example of the long tail theory at work:
In essence the theory sees a shift away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (very popular products) in certain industries and focuses instead on the huge number of niches that exist (the long tail).
So far, it seems to be working. Traffic to the Post has grown 28 percent in the last year, overtaking the New York Times. Sites like The Guardian, HubSpot and BuzzFeed are all following a similar pattern.
In the blue corner: quality
Representing the quality crowd, we have Janessa Lantz. She argues that, since we have hit 'peak content', the only way for content marketing to remain effective is to produce far less, but far better content.
Lantz argues that marketers must become more like product managers:
Product managers spend their time figuring out the highest-impact feature to build. They use data to understand the impact of a feature. They project manage. They coordinate a variety of roles to get the job done. They understand how the product, and the exact feature they are building, fits into the competitive landscape. Product managers are highly skilled at prioritization, they have to be — engineering time is too valuable to risk spending it on low-impact work. Content marketers will also build muscle in these areas, we have to — attention is too scarce to risk it on low-impact content.
Rather than churning out as much content as possible and just creating the most noise, the idea is to be the lone signal in the noise: to be the one really good, authoritative and unique piece of content that your target audience is after.
Ding, ding round one: ROI
Marketers might love going ten rounds on the technicalities and the art of their industry, but all businesses want to know is which approach delivers the best ROI?
The answer depends on your business. For a newspaper, increasing site visitors is key because it means more eyeballs on adverts and higher advertising revenue. Looking at ROI alone, the quantity approach works here.
As a business, however, you don't just want visitors. You want leads and customers too, which means attracting the right visitors. In fact, volume isn't all that important if you are targeting your content effectively.
In particular if you have a long sales cycle, it's more likely that the quality approach will work for you.
Ding, ding round two: achievability
Neither approach is cheap or easy.
Whether you're a well-funded big brand or a small business, trying to source the people, data and resources to take the quantity approach will be a challenge.
Of course, if something's worth doing, it's worth doing well. You wouldn't hire a rookie to do your accounts - so why risk the same with your marketing? After all, marketing is just another word for sales and growth in today's parlance. Why would you hand the future of your company over to anyone less than qualified?
On the other side, the quantity approach requires a vast staff and Bezos-deep pockets to invest in robots to write your long-tail content for you. Bezos isn't replacing his journalists, he's supplementing them:
'Finding amazing sources, discovering interesting stories, analyzing things are the things we want great reporters to focus on. We want humans to tell stories that only humans can tell'. Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at The Washington Post.
The Post is an extreme example, of course. But if you're going for quantity you have to be able to stick to it. That means regularly getting copy out the door. Even if it's 12 posts a week, not 1200, that's still a serious investment.
Ding, ding round three: the human element
The fight takes an unusual turn in this round for two important reasons:
We've already solved for content shock
'Content shock might have been the best thing that’s ever happened to us,' says Kevan Lee, director of marketing at Buffer, 'because it has sparked us to work together to surface our favorite things.' He cites social media sharing, curated newsletters, emails and hyperlinked content as ways we naturally filter the quantity for the quality we want. If your customers need a quick, specific answer to something, the article that best and most quickly answers their need will naturally surface. On the other hand, if they need consultation, advice and analysis they will inevitably land on that high-quality, one-off piece written just for that purpose.
If you want to be different, you have to act different
Content marketing doesn't exist to trot out the same old sales-y messages in a new digital format. It's there to draw people in with genuinely useful content. So if you're an IT support provider that focuses on removing the headache of technical glitches, the quantity approach will work for you. Just make sure the long-tail keywords you are using reflect the niggles and nightmares your potential customers face. If you're a communications specialist working with high level executives, they won't be convinced by a short article. They'll want context, research and input from other experts. Here you need to think quality and scarcity.
It's a knockout: common sense wins
When it comes down to it, there is no big fight. People (guilty as charged) are pitching it as quality vs quantity because it creates a hubbub and gets people talking. But content marketing is about the right quantity of quality content for your audience.
All content marketing should be good quality. But sometimes it will serve you to pay for truly high-quality content. This is the kind of content that continues to grow in reach long after you've stopped sharing it on social media; content that people would pay for; and content that leaves them quite literally asking for more.
Other times, getting short-from, accurate, long-tail keyword content out the door quickly will serve you better. When all is said and done, it's not about which throws the biggest punch - it's about which will hit your personas right between the eyes.